How, exactly, is one expected to animate the afterlife? So many of us wonder what waits for us in The Great Beyond. Now, in the latest Pixar animated feature Soul, director Pete Docter and his team had to visualize what is waiting for us when we pass on from this life into whatever mysterious realm is waiting for us. This allowed Docter to get very creative, because honestly, who is going to nitpick any of his creative decisions? None of us have been there, so we can’t say whether he’s right or wrong. And yet, there’s one distinct sound effect that Peter Docter used in The Great Beyond scenes that studio executives pushed back on. The answer is in the exclusive interview clip above.
In Soul, a middle school band instructor named Joe (Jamie Foxx) dies on the day that he lands an invitation to his dream gig. Frustrated by the timing of it all, Joe’s soul now must race the clock to figure out a way to return to his body so he can complete what he always believed to be his life’s mission of becoming a famous and successful jazz pianist.
In the scene in question, Joe is realizing for the first time that he’s dead. He’s surrounded by other souls who willingly are riding a conveyor belt of sorts that transport them to The Great Beyond. And in a very funny moment, the souls that transport sound like insects stepping into a bug zapper. Which is exactly the sound that Pete Docter captured and included in the Soul final cut.
When I asked him about the use of that descriptive sound, Pete Docter elaborated:
We thought it was just a way to undercut things. And we got a lot of notes about that. I remember people were like, ‘You… no! Ah, that’s scarier!’ I don’t even remember what people were worried about. It seemed funny!
Flashing back on the creative process, Soul co-director Kemp Powers added:
There were (several) people who wanted us to change that sound, but I loved the bug-zapper sound.
I did, too! It’s a small creative decision, but it can be translated as something major. In context, it can comment that we are all insects buzzing around a much larger existence, and our passage to the great beyond is nothing more than bugs getting zapped by a device. Does that make you feel insignificant? Is that even the point?!
These are the type of Big Picture life lessons that Soul wants us to ask as Joe goes on his journey. It’s a big part of the reason why Soul, to me, is one of this past year’s best films, and I’m thrilled that audiences can now check it out, so long as you have a subscription to Disney+ in your home. The movie started streaming there on Christmas Day, and it is a MUST watch.